Seventeen year-old Michelle Pearce is barely scraping by. Her grades plummet. The bullying she endures at school only escalates. Even the perky high school counselor seems a bit over her head with Michelle and the fury penned inside her.
Enter Nate. He’s just about the last thing Michelle wants hanging around the gas station she works. Impossibly tall and somber, Nate is just too nice to dislike. She tries. Fails.
They begin working together and at first out of boredom, Michelle pries into Nate’s life. She finds more sadness and more compassion than she could have imagined. Through him, she learns an entirely different way of responding to the awfulness life seems to keep dishing out.
Part of a new line of teen-written novels, Paper Hearts is penned by an eighteen year-old author who writes teen angst with authenticity and power. Michelle’s fierce anger can be so intense that it’s almost off-putting. The salve is in the softer characters (Nate and his grandmother) who bring out the flighty wounded girl under the tough exterior. Next to the rest of the cast, Michelle’s mother, counselor and boss lack complexity and remain a little two-dimensional. Despite this, the novel is an impressive achievement for a debut writer.
One character briefly recounts sexual abuse. One scene includes a jumbled description of a man sexually assaulting a woman. Several crude sexual comments.
At school, a group of girls bully and humiliate Michelle, destroying her clothes and possessions, physically attacking her. Michelle’s mom throws a candle jar at her, and glass shatters in Michelle’s hair. See sexual content for additional details.
Michelle and Nate share a bottle of sparkling wine. Both are under 21. Michelle smokes cigarettes.